The Hunt for Otama
When Max Bryant heard that the Royal Australian Navy was disposing of the ageing fleet of Oberon Class submarines, he contacted the Navy Disposal Department.
HMAS Otama was the last of Australia’s six Oberon-class submarines and still in service. Constructed on the Clyde in Scotland the boat was the last one built of this class and was also the last of this class worldwide to be decommissioned. With the new Collins class boats coming on line, HMAS Otama was decommissioned in December 2000.
Max prepared a detailed submission that went to the RAN for evaluation. They would eventually make their recommendation back to the Disposals Department. Out of a number of submissions it finally came down to City of Geelong and WPOA. The Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Defence Dr. Brendan Nelson stated that, in all his years in politics he had never seen such a detailed quality submission. Hence the Western Port bid was successful.
During this period Max Bryant was successful in his submission for a grant of $500,000.00 under the Centenary of Federation program. This grant allowed WPOA to purchase the submarine at $55,000 and meet the towage fee from HMAS Sterling in Western Australia to Western Port Bay at a cost of $306,000.
Prior to departure an EPA approval was required so all tanks were cleaned at a further cost of $40,000. The cost of insurance for the run across southern Australia was $96,000 so the initial funding was all but exhausted by the time HMAS Otama arrived in Western Port.
On the 30th of April 2002, Otama entered Western Port Bay after a 13 day tow from HMAS Sterling in Western Australia by the ocean tug Southern Salvor. The journey had not been without its drama with Otama launching itself of the top of waves as the tow moved through the Great Australian Bight.
In Australia in the past, a few sections of submarines have been on display. Until recently, there has never been a complete boat on public view. HMAS Onslow located at the Australian National Maritime Museum Sydney was opened to the public. Then HMAS Ovens was acquired by the Fremantle Maritime Museum and is now is also on public display. HMAS Ovens was located on the former American Navy WW11 submarine slipway. The slipway site was situated amongst many old wharf sheds well off the normal recognised Fremantle tourism trail. Initially Ovens was open two days a week which was later increased to three days. Then when the display proved to be so popular, it was increased to weekly. In eight months the boat has had over 55,000 visitors. So successful is the submarine display that the WA government has now relocated their entire maritime museum to a new $24,000,000 facility alongside the submarine.
The Western Port Oberon Association intends to display the submarine Otama as a land based facility. Submarines by their design generically have a problem with limited access not only with entry but between compartments within the submarine as well. Otama is to be sited high and dry alongside the Victorian Maritime Centre Interpretation building. Openings are to be cut in to the side of the hull for and aft of the submarine. These access openings with then connect with pedestrian tunnels which will run between the submarine and the building.
With over 7,000,000 visitors to the Mornington Peninsula annually, there is no doubt that many people will take the time to stop over in Western Port to visit the Victorian Maritime Centre.